Thursday, 02 February 2023

Safeway purchases Willow Tree Shopping Center

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Samples of Safeway's exterior improvements on display at the Lakeport Community Development Department. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 



LAKEPORT – Businesses in Lakeport’s Willow Tree Shopping Center on 11th Street have a new landlord – Safeway has purchased the property.


“We closed escrow and we are now the proud owners,” said Safeway spokesperson Espe Greenwood.


Lake County News obtained a copy of a certified letter Safeway sent to businesses dated Aug. 23 notifying them that as of Aug. 22 Safeway had taken ownership of the shopping center.


Safeway purchased the shopping center from Seagulls Unlimited, a Santa Cruz-based company which, according to Lake County Assessor’s Records, purchased the property in November of 2000.


Greenwood said negotiations took place all the way up to the last minute.


Safeway has been in that location since 1981, said Greenwood. The store employs 100 people.


The shopping center is divided into two parcels – 979 11th Street, an 8.4-acre parcel, and 1071 11th Street, which is 3.9 acres, according to Lake County Assessor Records. The transfer amounts for both properties totaled $16 million in 2000.


Terms of Lakeport’s Safeway purchase were not disclosed.


Safeway’s 2006 annual report noted that the corporation had 1,761 stores across California, the Western United States, the Chicago metropolitan area and the Mid-Atlantic region, along with Canada.


Of those 1,761 stores, the company owns 40 percent of them, the report states.


With the purchase of the Lakeport store, Safeway now owns both of its Lake County stores. The Clearlake Safeway store, located at 14922 Olympic Drive sits on a four-acre parcel that the company purchased in 1990, according to Lake County Assessor’s Records, with a transfer amount of $3,161,500.


The corporation’s decisions to buy real estate depends on a lot of factors, said Greenwood. She added that buying stores it leases isn’t necessarily a trend for Safeway.


In the case of Lakeport’s store, Greenwood said the company chose to buy for a lot of reasons, which she didn’t specify. “It’s very hard to say that any one thing stands out from the rest.”


MAJOR REMODEL PLANNED


Greenwood said Lakeport’s Safeway is slated for a remodel which will convert it to the company’s new “Lifestyle” store format.


The Lifestyle store will have “the bells and whistles,” said Greenwood, including an expanded wine section featuring local wines, a larger floral department which will feature bouquets and arrangements for special occasions, and an expanded bakery with a hearth oven.


The remodeled store also will include more energy efficient refrigerators and new lighting, with the company changing from fluorescent lights, said Greenwood.


All of those changes are meant to reduce the company’s environmental footprint, reduce costs and make Safeway more competitive, Greenwood added.


The remodel also will increase the size of the store from 40,342 to 46,982, according to plans submitted to the Lakeport Community Development Department. Greenwood added that most Safeway stores are in the 40,000 to 55,000 square foot range.


Greenwood said the company plans to invest more in its properties. Safeway conducted 276 Lifestyle remodels in 2006, according to its annual report.


The remodel plans include removing the parking along the front of the store and moving handicapped parking out into the first rows of the main parking area.


The front façade and the sides of the Safeway building will undergo significant changes, according to the plans submitted to the city, which were drawn up by Nadel Retail Architects of Sacramento.


The building's front overhang will be removed, and decorative touches including planters and a wooden trellis will be added. The two main entrances will remain in their current locations. An area also will be added for a pharmacy.


The plans are being reviewed right now, said Community Development Director Richard Knoll.


He said he believes the remodel will go to the Lakeport Planning Commission for approval in November or December.


“If everything went in a quick order they’ll probably be ready for a building permit in spring,” said Knoll.


TENANTS DISCUSS EXPECTED CHANGES


John Peterson, chief operating officer of Mendo-Lake Credit Union, told Lake County News that his company was notified of Safeway’s plans to purchase the complex during the first week of July.


The plans Safeway has submitted to the city’s Community Development Department include moving a portion of the shops between Safeway and Longs Drugs. Specifically, the shops that would be removed are leased by orthopedic hand surgeon Rebecca Jensen, Willow Tree Dental, Advance America and Bandbox Music.


Ron Benkelman, owner of Bandbox Music, said he has been in his location near Safeway since February of 1999. “This is the best location I’ve had in the county,” said Benkelman.


Bandbox Music has been in business in Lake County for 51 years altogether, said Benkelman, who purchased the business in 1990. During that time the business has had six locations. “This is by far the nicest.”


He said his business benefits from the foot traffic in that part of the shopping center.


Safeway is offering Benkelman the chance to move to another area of the shopping center, he said.


So far, Benkelman said he has been offered a spot near Longs, but nothing has been finalized. He also doesn’t know when Safeway will expect businesses to move under the new leases, and said merchants like him want to know that date.


Greenwood said Safeway will definitely be relocating some of its tenants. “It will be happening next year.”


Benkelman said the last owners treated the property badly and didn’t make an effort at upkeep, a statement with which Lynn Fegan, owner of Catfish Books, agreed.


The experience with Safeway as a landlord has so far been positive said Fegan, who added that she made out her first rent check to Safeway for the month of September.


Fegan, who has owned the store for 14 years, said Catfish Books has been in the same location for 27 years, since the shopping center was built.


She said last year her business was up 35 percent. However, with the change in ownership and the plans for demolishing one part of the shops, Fegan said she’s unsure of what the future will hold for her business.


The big question, she said, is will she be required to move or will Safeway choose to not renew her lease, causing her to close?


The other major change tenants expect is a raise in rent.


Benkelman said he is prevented by the terms of his lease from discussing his current rental rate, but said he expects it to rise to $15 per square foot per year, which for his 1,200 square foot shop would equal $1,500 a month, a price he said is much more in line with Pleasanton’s rates than Lake County’s.


“All change is for the good. All change is uncomfortable,” said Benkelman.


Greenwood said Safeway is committed to improve the shopping center. “We’ll definitely invest a lot of money in this property to make it nice.”


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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